I wrote this story last year, like the other two I posted.  This story, however, was actually accepted for publication by a small internet market.  For whatever reason though, they never actually posted the story or paid me for it.  So now that the rights have reverted back to me, I’m posting it here.  This one is a little bit of sci-fi, a little bit thriller. 

Unlike my previous two stories, this one has adult language and themes, so fair warning to those sensitive to this type of material.

 

Selective Memory

“This will be the last time,” Milgram said as he lifted the canteen with a shaky hand.  He pressed it against his lips and tried to slow his breathing.  His head throbbed and he wondered if his tightened throat muscles would allow him to swallow. 

With the pill sitting on the back of his tongue he managed one good swallow while the bulk of water ran down his chin.  By the time his collar had soaked through, his hand had stopped shaking.  He took one deep breath and exhaled as he fastened the cap on his canteen.

“Okay, you’re good to go,” Dr. Reese opened the flap and Milgram stood up.  He looked around, recognizing the medical tent as if seeing it for the first time in days.  He felt hazy but his head didn’t hurt.  “I’ll see you again after the next mission.”

Milgram left the tent and looked at the roof of the Quonset hut.  Still light outside but he felt groggy and overburdened.  Maybe it was the pills. 

Samson sat on a nearby crate smoking a cigarette over a filth encrusted card table.  He fidgeted with his jacket and his eyes darted around as if he was trying to track a mosquito.  “I always envy the person who gets to go last.  The rest of us get hints from the screams and body language of everyone else going in.  Today was pretty fucking bad.”

“I don’t want to hear it,” Milgram said.  “I’m getting sick of waking up on a doctors’ chair wondering how I got there.  I keep telling myself I won’t take the pill and now look at me.”

“Everyone takes the pill.”  Samson took a drag of his cigarette and scratched the back of his neck.  Most of the soldiers were either seated in groups or gathered at the latrine presumably cleaning the vomit and blood off their uniforms. 

“I still don’t know how they force me to take it every time, but I’m not going to let them ever again.” Milgram looked down at his boots.  Speckled with blood that wasn’t his own.

“Get the fuck over yourself,” The words floated on a puff of smoke.  “Jesus.  You do this every time.  I just saw you go in there voluntarily.  The rest of us aren’t any better, but quit pretending to be a fucking saint.” 

Milgram couldn’t think of a retort so he shook his head and kicked at the dirt.  As difficult as it was to accept, perhaps his willpower really was that weak.  Those damn pills had become a crutch and a means to escape responsibility for his actions.  A pitiful, shameful way to live.

“You know,” Samson said.  “I used to believe in God way back before I joined up.”

“You don’t anymore?”

“I can’t,” Samson dropped his abused cigarette butt and mashed it into the dirt with his heel.  “I don’t know of any God from any culture that could ever…” He couldn’t finish.  He spit on the ground and fumbled for another cigarette.

“Could ever what?”

“Nothing.  Forget it.”

“No, what are you trying to say?”

“I… I missed a pill once.  I don’t know how it happened, but when I woke up in the doctor’s chair… I still remembered all of the things we did.  I begged for another, but the doctor told me that I’d already taken three pills.  I was simply too late.  I missed the timeframe.”

“I don’t want to know about shit like this.  I’m having a hard enough time keeping my head straight when I don’t know what I’ve been doing.”  Milgram stood up and began looking through crates.  Ammo.  First aid supplies.  “Do you know if there’s any food around here?”

Samson’s hands shook as he tried to light a new cigarette.  Fresh sweat formed on his brow and his eyes appeared baggy and vacant. 

“Samson?  Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”  Samson closed his eyes as he took a long drag.  “I saw some fruit where those other guys are sitting.  I don’t know if it’s any good.”

The washed out look of Samson’s face played over in Milgram’s mind as he walked across the hut looking for food.  Samson never used to be so edgy.  The pills were introduced to battle post-traumatic stress disorder, but if he had only missed one, this behavior was an ironic sign.  By blocking all recent memories from ever reentering a soldier’s consciousness the soldiers had no reason to fear guilt and emotional consequences.  Complete freedom from responsibility.  So what were they doing with that freedom?

Milgram didn’t want to think too hard.  He scanned the area for food and couldn’t help but observe the other soldiers and their uniforms.  Blood spattered their jackets and soaked into their socks.  Though it was barely discernable, one soldier had dried entrails hanging from his boots.  It was more than Milgram wanted to know.  More than he was supposed to know. 

“Ya alright Milgram?” The old vet Sanders leaned back in his chair.  His tattooed arms masked the fact that his skin was so sun baked he had the complexion of a pumpkin.   “We’re going to start a poker game soon.  You and your buddy over there should play.”

“That’s alright.  Is there any food over there?”

“Here.”  Sanders fished around behind his chair and pulled a banana out of a crate.  Though overripe and mostly brown, Milgram was too hungry to care.  He nodded in acknowledgment and rejoined Samson at the opposite end.

“What did you get?”

“A banana.  Why, did you want something?”

“No, I’m not hungry.”

Milgram grabbed the stem of the banana and began to peel back the skin.  He could sense Samson staring at him, burning a hole through him with his retinas.  “Samson, what the hell is wrong with you?”

The skin on Samson’s face was pale and rubbery.  His eyes clamped to the banana with the dead stare of a sadist watching a snuff film.  He spit the cigarette out of his mouth and covered his eyes.  “Oh God, I can’t take it.  I can’t fucking take it.”

Though he tried to search for something to say, Milgram could only put the banana down and listen to his own heartbeat.  Samson struggled with a satchel on his belt and opened it.  With shaky hands he pulled out a pill and placed it in his mouth.

“Where did you get those?”

“I took some from the doctor.  I need them, man.”

Milgram eyeballed the inside of the satchel.  There were several, possibly more than a dozen pills.  “If you get caught the sergeant will fuck you up.”

“I don’t really give a shit at this point.”  Samson sniffled and crunched down on the pill.  It took him only a few seconds to chew and swallow it.  Moments later he stopped shaking and the color returned to his face.  He looked around and then down at his satchel.  “Did I just…?”

“Yeah.”  Milgram placed his palms discreetly over the banana and slipped it off the table. 

“Did anybody see?”

“Just me.  I’m not going to tell anyone.” 

Samson sighed and smiled.  He tucked the satchel away; a man who had found his new religion in memory pills.  Milgram was glad that his friend had found a way to cope.  Even as his own conscious tore him up from the inside. 

“Hey guys, we got the call,” Sanders stood up and pointed to the outdoors.  “Everybody form up and move out.” 

Samson stood up and joined the rest of the platoon, but Milgram found his body frozen in place.  He did not want to go out on another mission only to come back and ingest another pill.  By the time he looked back up, everyone had gone, never noticing that he wasn’t with them.  He cleared his throat and stood up. 

After taking one step towards the door, Milgram looked back at the medical tent.  No sound aside from the wind whistling past the outer walls  He shuffled towards the tent and pulled up the flap.  The doctor was gone too.  One more glance at the door.  If anybody saw him he’d be fucked. 

Milgram took a deep breath and began sorting through the boxes and bottles.  A tall rectangular bottle stood on the corner of the wash basin.  He scooped it up greedily and twisted the top off.  Hundreds of memory pills.  Enough for the next dozen missions at least.   

With the top back on and the bottle fit snuggly inside his jacket, Milgram grabbed his gear and took off outside.  The soldiers would soon be aware that he wasn’t among them and he had little time to destroy the contents of the bottle.  He wanted to reach back and throw it as far as possible, but that might draw too much attention. 

A jagged rock planted into the ground looked like as good a place as any.  Milgram pushed the rock back and poured the contents of the bottle down into the hole.  He took the last pill and placed it in his palm before dropping the bottle and mashing it and all its contents into the muddy soil underneath the rock.  

It didn’t look as natural as it had before, but certainly not too suspect.  Milgram popped the last pill into his mouth and jogged towards his comrades.  It tasted unbearably bitter but he held off on swallowing or spitting it out.  When he got close to Samson he slipped in behind him. 

“Where were you?”

“What are you talking about?  I’ve been right here.”

Samson didn’t look convinced, but he didn’t seem to care either.  With everything in place, Milgram crunched down on the pill and swallowed.

#

The platoon returned, bloodied and soiled by every human fluid imaginable.  Milgram coughed and hacked trying to take normal breaths.  Images flashed before his eyes, each one feeling like a shot in liver.  He tried to suppress the memories of torture and genocide.  He felt like a fucking monster.  “Where’s the doctor?”

“Something’s not right here.”  Forrest stormed into the tent, tossing out boxes and medical supplies faster than he could examine them.

“I don’t know,” Milgram said.  “Just find the pills.  We need to get the god damn pills.”

“There aren’t any fucking pills,” Forrest burst from the tent, tossing down a crate of medical supplies that burst into splinters as it hit the ground.  “Look at this.  Splints and bandages.  As if we’d ever need them for the shit we’re being forced to do.” 

Samson stood at the back of the platoon looking past the shoulders of the other stunned men.  His mouth hung open and he held onto a satchel attached to his belt.  While everyone else panicked and looked about for the phantom pills, he stood still.  Watching and waiting like he knew something.  Like he was scared they might find out. 

“Samson, what do you think happened?” Milgram asked. 

“No fucking clue, man.  Maybe the doctor ran off to get more.  Could be that we need a fresh supply.”

“This isn’t supposed to happen,” Sanders said.  “They can’t make us fucking wait like this.  What if we miss the window?”

“Fuck.”  Forrest held his head and tried to find any semblance of composure.  “I’ll never be able to live with myself after that.”

The closer Milgram got to Samson, the more Samson tried to stay away.  His eyes darted around wildly to each member of the platoon.  Milgram looked at his satchel.  “What do you have in that little pouch?”

“Nothing,” Samson swallowed.  “Let’s just wait for the doctor to get back.”

Milgram grabbed the satchel and ripped one end free as Samson desperately tried to hold on.  Pale blue pills burst into the air before scattering across the ground.

“You fucking snake,” Milgram said.  He picked up a pill nestled at his feet.  “You’re the one who took them.”

“No, you don’t understand.”  Samson shook his head and waved his arms, but the other soldiers converged on him like hyenas to a wounded wildebeest.  “That was a long time ago.” 

A gunshot rang through the air and Samson grabbed his chest.  Another gunshot and he fell to the ground. 

“Somebody had to do it,” Milgram said as he holstered his pistol.  “Everybody grab a pill.  Let’s forget this ever happened.”

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